Uninformative Experience

Michael Webster summarizes a key point from the book "Mistakes were made, but not by me":

"The more costly a decision, in terms of time, money, and inconvenience, and the more irrevocable its consequences, the greater the dissonance and the greater need to reduce it by overemphasizing the good things about the choice made."

If you are looking to purchase a franchise, then don’t look to the existing franchisees for information – if they are doing poorly, their brains will engage in self-deception trying to convince you of how good their choice was.  You should get in touch with other individual making the same pre-purchase decision – individuals who have not been to discovery day or who have been in contact with the franchisor.

Perhaps this is why the young don’t listen much to the old. 

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  • Jebs

    In this post and the linked post, you’ve presented a couple of good reasons for not listening to the old.

    Here is another one: People are very bad at task of discerning which elements of their lives are foreseeable consequences of their own decisions and which elements are just random noise.

    We want to invent explanations for things. We want them to be the result of our own skill and strategy. Or if things go badly, we want to believe that someone conspired against us. We’re not well equipped to deal with random outcomes.

    The successful old person probably imagines that most of his successes were due to his wise choices. He probably doesn’t spend much time dwelling on the possibility that he made bad decisions ex ante and somehow he got lucky.

    Even a dedicated rationalist who was determined to ascertain whether he had drawn the right lessons from life would find it a very difficult task.

  • Very interesting idea, Robin.

    While Jeb’s cautionary observation about what experience really teaches is important, and something I am sure most readers of this blog would agree with, after reading Robin’s link I wondered if 25 years ago I was as receptive to the dissonance message. (If my own future self couldn’t convince my present self, then Robin is probably on to something.)

    More professional readers should also read Eddie Harmon-Jones and Judson Mills “Cognitive Dissonance”, which was published in 1999. The range of experiments was quite enlightening, at least for me.

  • nolrai

    I really wonder if societies that don;t have as high self esteem and don’t need to be consistent as much have this same bias.